The Nigerian government will treat Niger Delta armed fighters as terrorists and deal with them in a similar manner to Boko Haram unless they agree to negotiate, President Muhammadu Buhari has said.
Mr. Buhari, whose government has succeeded in taming the Boko Haram insurgents and largely limited their activities to Borno State, said this in Kenya according to his spokesperson, Garba Shehu.
Armed militants in the Niger Delta region have claimed responsibility for several attacks on oil and gas installations that have reduced Nigeria’s oil output by half and worsened the electricity situation in the country.
A group, the Niger Delta Avengers, which claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, recently indicated its willingness to negotiate with the government. It asked that an elder statesman from the region, Edwin Clark, be part of the negotiation team that should also include officials of relevant multinational oil companies.
While speaking at a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on the sidelines of the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Nairobi, Kenya, Mr. Buhari indicated his government would use maximum force to deal with the militants if peace efforts failed.
“We are talking to some of their leaders,” he said. “We will deal with them as we dealt with Boko Haram if they refuse to talk to us.”
“As a government, we know our responsibility, which is to secure the environment. It is clear to us that lenders won’t fund projects in insecure environments.
“We realize that we have to secure the country before we can efficiently manage it,” the President added.
Speaking at another interview with journalists in Kenya, Mr. Buhari expressed doubt in the unilateral ceasefire recently announced by the Avengers.
‘‘We do not believe that they (the militants) have announced ceasefire,” he said.
“We are trying to understand them more. Who are their leaders and which areas do they operate and other relevant issues.”
The Nigerian military has continued its offensive against the militants, whose demand include local control of oil resources, despite the ceasefire announced by the avengers.
On Saturday, Army spokesperson, Sani Usman, announced some successes against the armed militants.
“The 133 Special Forces Battalion of Nigerian Army troops have carried out a precursor operation to Exercise CROCODILE SMILE aimed at getting rid of all forms of criminal activities in the Niger Delta geo-political region of Nigeria.
“In the course of the operation, five militants that attacked the troops were killed in action, while numerous others were injured and 23 suspects were arrested,” Mr. Usman, a colonel, said of the attack that happened on Friday.